As you probably could have guessed if you didn’t read our post on the subject, we here at TYAC were none too pleased with the US men’s team’s failure to qualify for the Olympics. It was an inexcusable failure, a lost opportunity for growth, and a giant let down for fans who don’t get to watch their team compete in probably the world’s most underrated soccer tournament. The Yanks Are Coming was founded during the 2008 Olympics, and we’ve got a special place in our hearts for this competition. You will too if you actually watch these matches, and that’s something we’ll be doing, even if the Yanks didn’t make it to London. So which matches and teams should you schedule your lunch breaks around? And is there a team who needs this tournament more than the others?
The epitome of the “team to watch” concept, even if they’re not likely to win gold. The host team is a creature that doesn’t even exist in the wilds of FIFA, and they should be a lot of fun to watch. Sadly, Scotland and Northern Ireland were too proud to contribute any players to this squad; that, or they were intimidated by FIFA’s obviously empty threats about taking away their footballing sovereignty. Whatever the actual motivations of the non-participating UK nations, we’re still left with a team that includes players from both England and Wales, and the Welsh contingent might actually be more exciting than their more plentiful English counterparts. Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy will finally get to showcase themselves in an international tournament, and they’ll be joined in attack by fellow Welshman Aaron Ramsey. The English offensive contribution will be highlighted by current and former Chelsea youngsters in the forms of Daniel Sturridge, Scott Sinclair, and Jack Cork. Manchester United’s Tom Cleverley is also worth a mention here. Micah Richards marshals the defense, likely from his native right back position, and a relatively anonymous duo including either West Brom’s Craig Dawson or West Ham’s James Tomkins will be tasked with shielding an even more anonymous goalkeeper. I expect Jason Steele to get the starts over Jack Butland. See, I told you they were anonymous.
But here’s the Stone Cold bottom line on Great Britain: What if they actually win?! England will celebrate like crazy, but they’ll never be able to flaunt those bragging rights in the real world of FIFA, because Wales will never, never, never let the Three Lions forget that they couldn’t do it without them. And yes– everyone in the non-Manchester United rooting world can have a beer and cheer for Ryan Giggs in peace.
For most the teams in the Olympic tournament, the thought process is to try and win a meaningful international tournament while getting their next generation of national team regulars some necessary seasoning. It’s a little more serious for this Olympic edition of the Seleḉấo. Brazil hosts the World Cup two summers from now, and they’re at the back end of a relatively large scale changing of the guard. What’s more– because they are given the free pass to the tournament as the host in 2014, they get no “meaningful” qualifying competitive matches– only a run through at the Confederations Cup next summer. What that means is the 2014 host nation, which will inevitably field a “young side”, has limited moments for tournament-style play before the lights turn on in Brazil. Safe to say, that means Brazil’s stakes in this tournament are higher than most, even by Brazil’s lofty standards.
That means that the new Brazilian key players (exactly who this team is comprised of) need to get in the habit of performing at a high level right now. That means winning, and doing so under the guidance of full national team manager Mano Menezes. This team will probably win, and they’ll probably do so in style. It’s a given at this point that Neymar is one of the best players in the world, and he’s probably more electrifying than anyone else on that list. But look at the rest of the roster. Oscar just made his move to Chelsea, and Hulk might be on the way. Lucas Moura is coveted by Sir Alex Ferguson, and could be on his way to Manchester. And then there’s Ganso the forgotten. Not familiar with this storyline? Do yourself a favor and check out Soccernet’s Chris Atkins’ wonderful work of Ganso journalism Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
“Boring” players that I haven’t even mentioned yet: Sandro, Marcelo, Rafael Da Silva, Alexandre Pato, Thiago Silva. Yeah, it’s like that. The squad’s lone weakness? Goalkeeping. Starter Rafael Cabral will miss the Olympics with an elbow injury, so it’ll be up to either 19 year old Gabriel, or last minute call-up Neto to get the job done for a team with the highest expectations.
Another team managed by the same guy that runs the senior national team, but Oscar Tabárez at the helm for Uruguay’s Olympic squad signals a slightly different intent than Mano Menezes managing Brazil. It makes sense from a continuity standpoint to keep Menezes in charge of the young men that will comprise his World Cup team. But sending Tabárez to London means Uruguay is keen to continue their best run of form since their domination in the early days of international soccer. They’re trying to win this thing, and they’re signaling that same intent with their overage selections. Goal scoring machines Luis Suárez, Edinson Cavani, and defensive midfielder Arévalo Ríos. All three were part of the 2010 World Cup fourth place squad, and all three are reigning Copa América champs. Uruguay did well to leave the aging and recently injured Diego Forlán at home for this tournament. The 33 year old dynamic forward needs to get healthy and get some rest if he’s going to have any tread left on the tires when Uruguay tries to win their third World Cup. They usually go home with the hardware when the tourney’s held in South America– and yes, we’re banking on an American side winning in 2014 (yeah, we see you Mexico, and you’re an “American” side).
And what about the Uruguayan players that actually are of Olympic age? Let’s just say there’s a reason that Liverpool struck a partnership with Nacional (and would like to score a monopoly on young Uruguayan players if that was possible). Liverpool’s Coates will play center half, as he did in the Copa América, and fellow former Nacional player Nicolás Lodeiro will benefit from the absences of some of the old guys, likely getting to start the match as an attacking mid rather than coming off the bench as he normally does for the full national team. Most exciting of all may be the play of Abel Hernández, the speedy Bologna striker. He could be deployed up top in a couple different ways, and Uruguay truly does have a wealth of quality options up top, even if they’re not bringing many true strikers. Remember, Tabárez didn’t find his magic formation (target man Cavani, Suárez off to his right, Forlán withdrawn and offset to the left) until the second match of the 2010 World Cup.
Well we had to include them. They’re Spain.
The current kings of international soccer. But will they still be the kings four or five years from now? From an outsider’s perspective, that’s what this tournament is about for Spain. But for the guys on the team, the weight of the world is on their shoulders as they try to meet the ridiculous standard set by Xavi and his merry men. A tall task for a group that’s not going to look too familiar to fans that don’t follow La Liga closely (and I’m talking about actual La Liga, not just the two teams that spend all the money). So who will you recognize? And will anyone stand out given how absolutely outrageously bad– we’re talking Andre Agassi in CANON Rebel advertisements bad– the Olympic kits are?
Chelsea supporters will know Juan Mata, and they’ll probably be familiar with Oriol Remeu from friendlies and cup appearances. Along with Mata, fellow Euro 2012 champion Jordi Alba (dubbed by the usual Spain fanatics as the greatest left back in Europe) will pull double duty this summer. He’ll likely start at left back just as he did during the Euro. And Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea should get the starts in net. The rest of the team is good, some of them no doubt better than some of the familiar names above. But is this team good enough to win gold in London? If they do just that, we could all be in for a ridiculously long Spanish reign over the international game.
This portion of the blog may be a bit tough for USMNT fans to read. It’s certainly tough for me to write. Mexico had a dream summer last year, and while you may have not been looking, they were setting themselves up for the Olympics the whole time. Yes, El Tri won the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the Under-17 World Cup, and placed third at the Under-20 World Cup. But did you know they took their Under-23 squad and manager to the Copa América and got three competitive matches under their belts? They even sent Gio Dos Santos to the tournament in Argentina, not only because he’s obligated to play in every Mexico tournament possible… forever, but also because they knew he’d be of age and could serve as a lynchpin of the Olympic team.
The overage selections include Carlos Salcido, who can play left back and defensive mid, and he just might slide to center back in this tourney as well. They’re also bringing 31 year old goalkeeper José de Jesús Corona, infamous in his absence from the 2011 Gold Cup, not for eating tainted chicken, but for getting in an on-field fight during a playoff match with Cruz Azul.
And though you may not be familiar with the name, keep your eyes on Chivas forward Marco Fabián. He’s now the all time leading scorer for El Tri’s U-23 team, with more goals than appearances. If he continues his free scoring form the 2012 Olympics might just become the 2012 Marco Fabián shop window.
Gold – Brazil
Silver – Great Britain
Bronze – Uruguay
Match of the Tournament – Semifinal: Brazil vs. Uruguay
World Cup style awards, because why not:
Golden Boot – Neymar
Golden Ball – Ryan Giggs
Golden Glove – Jason Steele (He may not even be the starter, but for my Silver Medal prediction to come true, Great Britain’s goalkeeper better be special. Working in Steele’s favor? In 2010 I predicted Uruguay’s (then)young and untested Fernando Muslera to come out of nowhere and have a great World Cup. Muslera did exactly that.)
Jon Levy is Co-Founder and Associate Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and you should follow him on Twitter at @TYAC_Jon — we think he’s one of the best follows in our feed- but excuse our bias and understand you will too.